Building the Beat
Rapper and hip-hop artists seek to foster local scene and positive community
Dustyn Frolka doesn’t have a TV in his room. What he does have is music production program FL Studio 10, a sound card to convert his microphone recordings into a digital format, and recording software Mixcraft 5. He’s an aspiring rapper known as “D-Fro,” already has performed five shows across Michigan this month.
“I just grew up listening to the radio as a kid,” the marketing freshman said. “So it just grew from there. I started making my own little tracks when I was 13, 14 years old off a little Walmart mic. And it just went from there, building, progressing, getting more equipment, finding more things out.”
Instead of watching college basketball, Frolka sits in front of his computer, creating beats, writing verses and promoting his music — all in his Emmons Hall dorm room. Frolka is a new-age rapper — one who uses at-hand resources to get involved in the hip-hop scene.
He’s performed in Detroit, Flint, Ann Arbor, Muskegon, even Atlanta. He has plans to perform in New York this summer. But one city is glaringly absent from the list: East Lansing. Frolka said that though he’s aware of many rappers in the area, the overall support from the scene is lacking. However, he knows that the framework for the scene exists.
“Don’t say that there’s not a scene,” Frolka said. “It’s not that there’s not one, it just isn’t that unified.”
There is a consensus among the rap community that the local scene isn’t unified. But there are people who are working on bringing the hip-hop community closer together.
Back to their roots
Seattle native and hip-hop artist Ozay Moore, who previously went by the rap name Othello, would agree the local hip-hop scene could be more unified. He began rhyming in 1993 and has released music for a number of labels. His involvement in rap recently has been more local, as he’s lived in Lansing for the past seven years. He described the scene as slowly fluctuating.
“It’s breathing, barely,” he said. “But it breathes kinda up and down, up and down. There’s really strong artists here. There’s just no leadership, and the different leaders that have been here in the past got burnt out.”
He founded his organization, “All of the Above Hip Hop Academy,” January 2012. It’s an after-school mentoring program at the Lansing Oak Park YMCA that uses hip-hop and rap culture to stimulate young minds.
“We’re giving youth an opportunity to experience hip-hop culture from a very historically accurate perspective,” Moore said.
Many Lansing rappers are affiliates of the organization, a list that includes members of BLAT! Pack and emcee Sareem Poems.
“Hip-hop is a dominant language in our generation, but it’s also misunderstood,” Moore said. “That’s why we emphasize community, that’s why we emphasize education and especially alternative education.”
Through the organization, Moore hopes to build a sense of community among the Lansing rappers as well.
“We can get these young folks to take ownership of the culture that they’re going to be contributing to,” he said. “That’s just a lot of what we’re doing. We want to stimulate the hip-hop scene here and build longevity and stability.”
Austin Jackson, an assistant professor in the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities, is involved not only in All of the Above but has his own mentoring program, My Brother’s Keeper. The program provides black youth with college student mentors. The program has seen support from the BLAT! Pack, too.
Jackson said he sees local rappers doing more than just performing and making money.
“I see young men and women uniting over the means of cultural production in the service in their communities,” he said. “My major thing here is the way that people in the East Lansing community and students from MSU are doing a lot more. They’re getting hip-hop back to their roots.”
Expanding the community
Fusion Shows co-owner Irving Ronk believed Lansing’s hip-hop scene was underrepresented. So, at the beginning of last fall, Fusion Shows decided to put a greater focus on hip-hop.
“It’s always been one of those things that we wanted to do, but last fall is when we really started to make a big effort,” Ronk said.
Thus far, the decision has paid off. A few of the big name acts Fusion Shows has brought include Rockie Fresh and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. In addition, the decision has opened the door for local rappers, many of them students, to perform for local audiences.
“There are a lot of performers that were looking for shows, but not a lot of shows going on,” Ronk said. “So we wanted to give those performers the opportunity to perform and also work on their craft.”
Ronk said he sees MSU artists perform almost once a week, usually at Mac’s Bar.
“We started to see the enthusiasm that people had about those hip-hop shows, and it made us intrigued in doing smaller ones,” he said.
One such student rapper, advertising sophomore Greg Waddell — or G. Wiz, as he’s known to his listeners — performed his first show at The Loft last October. For Waddell, rap is a means of telling a story.
“It’s easy to start out, because you don’t need to have that crazy, amazing, God-given vocal talent,” he said. “You just need to have the ability to write, which I think a lot more people have instead of fine-tuned vocals.”
Through performing and going to shows, Waddell realized the scene is bigger than many expect.
“I’ve done a couple of shows, and I’ve been to a couple more, and I’ve seen six or seven artists that are just straight out of East Lansing, either just graduating MSU or still enrolled at MSU, and they’re putting on amazing shows,” he said. “And I didn’t expect that until I started seeing it with my own eyes, and I was really impressed.”
Up-and-coming Chicago artist Chance the Rapper is coming to The Loft next Wednesday. Ronk said Chance the Rapper has a good chance of becoming a member of the XXL Magazine’s 2013 Freshman Class. The yearly honor goes to 10 of the biggest rising artists of that year.
“It’s not just the local acts, but it’s also up and coming national acts,” Ronk said.
Chance the rapper doesn’t have a radio single to his name, but could have performed anywhere. According to Ronk, the fact that Chance decided to perform in Lansing vindicates his decision to push hip-hop to the forefront.
“He was figuring out his tour, and they said, ‘You can play in Lansing, you can play in Grand Rapids, you can play in Kalamazoo, you can play in Ann Arbor. Where do you want to play?’ And to pick Lansing, that means a lot,” Rock said.
One of the main goals Ronk hopes to accomplish is to build a community around the growing hip-hop scene.
“It’s really interesting because one of our initiatives behind doing hip-hop shows is that we wanted that community to build a lot like the rock community has, as far as the artists getting along and working with each other and really building a scene,” Ronk said. “And that’s definitely happened.”